The house is quiet this morning, almost eerily so. No one is fighting in the living room. No one is clomping through the house like a drunken clog dancer. I’m tempted to turn the TV on just for some ambient noise but I almost don’t want to spoil the stillness that surrounds me. Today is the first day of school. My daughter, who just turned eleven, is starting her first day of high school. Though she’s a 4.0 student she is not Doogie Howser. She wasn’t supposed to change schools this year. She was supposed to remain at her elementary school until she became a freshman in high school. Two weeks ago, after her uniforms had already been bought and the tags ripped off, our world got flipped upside-down.
Almost a year ago, Hurricane Gustov tore through our little town with winds exceeding one hundred miles an hour. The roof on our home couldn’t handle the force and decided to give up halfway through the storm leaving everything inside exposed to the elements. Water got between the walls causing them to loose their integrity and crumble with the help of the powerful winds. Everything inside was ruined. Within days, everything that was once a vibrant color turned black with mold. Rather than rebuild, we decided to take the insurance money and pay off the remaining balance on our home loan. We lived in a hotel for a month, which the kids loved since it was somewhat reminiscent of the Suite Life of Zack and Cody and we had a swimming pool in our backyard. Living in a hotel gets old after about the first week because that’s about when reality sets in and you realize that you’re really not on vacation. We started looking for a place to rent until we found something to buy.
One street over from our old squished house we found a place that was big enough for the whole family. The only problem with the house was that it was exactly one mile outside of my daughter’s school’s limits. We informed the school board of our new living situation and were given special dispensation for my daughter to continue going to her school until we found a new home or rebuilt on our property. The person in the census department assured us that we had up to two years before she would have to change schools. I was thankful that my daughter’s life wouldn’t have to be upset anymore than it had been because of the storm.
Over the past year we have found a couple houses in the area that we liked. We knew it would be hard to get a home loan with the way the economy is but we put an offer on one. We put money down too. The people we were trying to buy the house from had been trying to sell the house for almost eight months when we put the offer on it and they accepted. We tried to get financing. We had to extend the closing date twice. Finally the sellers got tired of waiting and reneged on us. Six months later that house is still for sale and we are still renting. But, at least nothing will change, or so we thought.
Two weeks ago my daughter came home from her babysitter’s house upset. She never really liked going to this lady’s house because the sitter’s daughter, Sarah, is mean to her. Sarah is a year older than my daughter and likes to try to pull power trips. Sometimes the sitter leaves Sarah in charge of my daughter while she runs to the store to get milk. While the sitter would be gone, little bickering matches between Sarah and my daughter were inevitable. Sarah thought that since she was in charge she could have my daughter do her chores around the house for her. My daughter felt used. When the sitter would get back from her milk run, the fights stopped but the sitter could tell that something had happened while she was gone. Two weeks ago the sitter told my daughter that if she and Sarah didn’t stop fighting she would quit and spend the rest of the summer with just her family. She told my daughter that she didn’t need the money and that she was just watching her to be helpful. When I picked her up that evening and asked how things went that day, the sitter told me things went fine. She never mentioned that she wanted to quit. My daughter filled me in on that.
The next day, thinking things were fine, I went to work as usual. At about ten o’clock I got a phone call. I pulled my phone from my pocket and looked at the caller I.D. “School” was calling. “How odd,” I thought to myself since school wasn’t due to start for another two weeks. I answered the phone. It was my daughter’s new principal calling to inform me that my daughter could no longer go to her old school because of where we lived. I told her about our special dispensation from the school board. The principal said it didn’t matter because someone called to report that we lived outside of the school district. I asked who reported it. The principal told me she wasn’t at liberty to say who called. I gave our sitter’s name and asked if that’s who called. The principal said, “I can’t tell you that.” I gave another name. The principal said no. I said the sitter’s name again and the principal cleared her throat and said, “I can’t confirm that it was her.” That confirmed it for me. The sitter has a traditionally masculine name and the principal indicated that it was a woman. I was furious. I was shaking. I called my husband at work and told him what had just happened. He left work immediately to get my daughter.
When my husband got to the sitter’s house he asked her if we had done something to offend her. She looked at him blankly and said no, everything was fine. My husband told her that my daughter wouldn’t be coming the next day because we had some things to clear up with the school board. “Oh,” said the sitter. “My sister-in-law is in charge of the census at the school board.” We were about to start fighting a losing battle. In Louisiana it seems that if someone knows someone somewhere I’m doomed and lately it seems like everyone knows everyone else. The cheese stands alone.
I took off work the next day so I could straighten things out with the school board so my daughter could go to her old school. My husband decided it would be best if he went with me since he’s level headed and I’m, well, I’m a bit irrational at times. Usually I’m really quiet so much so that sometimes I startle people with my presence when they realize I’m standing next to them. When it comes to things like my kids, I’ll fight to the death and I don’t care who bleeds just as long as it’s not my kids. My husband and I went to the census department since that’s where we were directed. We explained to the woman (who was probably the sitter’s sister-in-law) our situation and told her that last year we were granted special dispensation. She told us that the dispensation no longer mattered because the parish that we live in is going through desegregation and it would be against federal law for my daughter to go to her old school. We tried to explain to her that my daughter was thriving in her old school. The census lady just blinked. We told her that we didn’t know anyone in the new school zone to watch my daughter after school. The lady proceeds to pull out the yellow pages and looks up “daycare” in our area. I started yelling. “If you think that we’re so stupid that we couldn’t have done that ourselves you’ve got another thing coming to you.” My husband grabbed my elbow and pulled me out of the room.
Our next stop was the superintendent’s office. Again, we explained our situation. We told the superintendent of our daughter’s excellent grades and the fact that she was in the gifted program at her old school. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. He told us that he could go to jail if our daughter didn’t go to the new school. He asked us if we would be willing to go to jail for him. We told him that our daughter wasn’t just a statistic but a child and that he was the one that just a year ago granted us the dispensation. “I don’t care,” he said. I asked him what we were supposed to do about after school care and he said, “That’s not my problem.” Seriously, these are direct quotes. My husband lost his temper. I’ve only seen him lose his temper a handful of times and it’s not something I enjoy. He, again, grabbed my elbow and told me that it was time for us to go. “Now, by all means,” the superintendent smiled at us as we stormed to the door. “When you get settled back on your property your daughter is more than welcome to come back to her old school.” “Of course she is,” I spat over my shoulder. “Because otherwise you’d go to jail and we wouldn’t want that now would we?”
I called the state department of education when we got home. Amazingly enough I spoke with someone that I actually knew. Years ago I worked in the school system and it seems that the superintendent that I worked for got promoted to the state level. When I heard his name, I got my hopes up. I told him my name and that I used to work for him. He didn’t remember me. He was nice though. He explained that the state couldn’t do anything about the parish school districts because that was to be handled by the parish. He said that our daughter would have to go to the new school because of the desegregation laws that have just been put into effect in our parish this year. Forty years after they were passed this state is finally deciding to follow desegregation and my eleven-year-old daughter is going to high school.
When we told my daughter that she was going to a new school her face crumpled. Before the tears could pour out I told her that she could still keep her old friends and that she was going to just have the availability to make a whole bunch more friends at her new school. I made sure that she would be in the gifted program at her new school too, which was another relief to my daughter. But still, my little girl is at high school now. I made her promise that she would still get her good grades. I told her to smile and relax. I also told her that if she’s invited to prom this year, she is so not going!